Like so many other communities throughout the United States, New York City remains segregated in many respects—racially, economically, and socially—but even so, the city has achieved a level of housing integration despite the systemic forces at work against it. In many neighborhoods, public housing stands next to luxury co-op and condo buildings; neighbors share streets, parks, shopping districts, and to some extent even schools.
This integration has been fostered by public policy over many years, and ranges in scope from the micro (such as ‘80/20’ rental buildings in which 80 percent of units are rented at prevailing market rates, with the remaining 20 percent reserved for lower-income residents) to mid-sized developments (such as income-restricted and limited-equity co-ops and rentals built under the city’s Mitchell-Lama program), to massive, macro-level projects like Co-op City and Starrett City, planned and built from the ground up to create whole new communities meant to encourage people of varying backgrounds and means to live together.
So what are the benefits of mixed-income housing? And what challenges arise in communities of diverse means in a city known for sky-high living costs and warp-speed gentrification? And what can we learn from it all as we move forward in post-pandemic New York?
A Little Look at the Past
Amid the strong social and political forces unleashed after the end of World War II and continuing through the civil rights movement, as well as changes in the urban fabric of America during the 1960s, a number of programs were initiated to bring more diversity to the economic face of housing and neighborhoods in New York. Two of the most notable initiatives launched to achieve this goal were the Mitchell-Lama program and the establishment of HDFC co-ops.
The Mitchell-Lama program, named for the two New York State legislators who created it, brought a level of housing integration and stabilization to New York City neighborhoods. It stemmed the exit of white, middle-class residents from New York City for home ownership in the suburbs by offering middle-income renters the option of ownership in newly built, income-restricted co-op buildings. By contrast, HDFC co-ops were most often established in existing rental buildings that had been abandoned by their owners to the City. They provided a similar opportunity for in-place residents to own their apartments under income caps similar to those of Mitchell-Lama buildings. HDFC provided home ownership opportunities to lower- and middle-income New Yorkers who might otherwise never have had such opportunity.